Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business Paperback – Nov 4 1986
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About the Author
Neil Postman (1931–2003) was chairman of the Department of Communication Arts at New York University and founder of its Media Ecology program. He wrote more than twenty books. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Table of Contents
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Chapter 1. - The Medium Is the Metaphor
Chapter 2. - Media as Epistemology
Chapter 3. - Typographic America
Chapter 4. - The Typographic Mind
Chapter 5. - The Peek-a-Boo World
Chapter 6. - The Age of Show Business
Chapter 7. - “Now ... This”
Chapter 8. - Shuffle Off to Bethlehem
Chapter 9. - Reach Out and Elect Someone
Chapter 10. - Teaching as an Amusing Activity
Chapter 11. - The Huxleyan Warning
Acclaim for Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death
“As a fervent evangelist of the age of Hollywood, I publicly opposed Neil Postman’s dark picture of our media-saturated future. But time has proved Postman right. He accurately foresaw that the young would inherit a frantically all-consuming media culture of glitz, gossip, and greed.”
“A brillant, powerful and important book. This is an indictment that Postman has laid down and, so far as I can see, an irrefutable one.”
—Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post Book World
“He starts where Marshall McLuhan left off, constructing his arguments with the resources of a scholar and the wit of a raconteur.”
—The Christian Science Monitor
“This comes along at exactly the right moment.... We must confront the challenge of his prophetic vision.”
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
For the last third of the twentieth century, Neil Postman was one of America’s foremost social critics and education and communications theorists, and his ideas and accessibility won him an international following. An influential and revered teacher, he was professor for more than forty years at New York University, where he founded the renowned Media Ecology program. Blessed with an unusually far-reaching mind, he authored more than twenty books, producing major works on education (Teaching as a Subversive Activity, The End of Education), childhood (The Disappearance of Childhood), language (Crazy Talk, Stupid Talk), news (How to Watch TV News, with Steve Powers) and technology’s impact on culture (Technopoly). Amusing Ourselves to Death remains his most reverberating and widely read book, translated into more than a dozen languages. He was educated at the State University of New York at Fredonia and Columbia University. He died in October 2003, at the age of seventy-two.
Andrew Postman, Neil’s son, is the author of five books, including the novel Now I Know Everything. For several years he was a monthly columnist for Glamour and his work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and New York Magazine, among numerous publications.
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First published in the United States of America by Viking Penguin Inc. 1985
Published in Penguin Books 1986
This edition with an introduction by Andrew Postman published 2006
Introduction copyright © Andrew Postman, 2005
All rights reserved
Grateful acknowledgment is made to The New York Times Company for permission to reprint from “Combining TV, Books, Computers” by Edward Fiske, which appeared in the August 7, 1984 issue of The New York Times. Copyright © 1984 by The New York Times Company.
A section of this book was supported by a commission from the Annenberg Scholars Program, Annenberg School of Communications, University of Southern California. Specifically, portions of chapters six and seven formed part of a paper delivered at the Scholars Conference, “Creating Meaning: Literacies of our Time,” February 1984.
eISBN : 978-1-101-04262-5
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Introduction to the Twentieth Anniversary Edition
A book of social commentary published twenty years ago? You’re not busy enough writing e-mails, returning calls, downloading tunes, playing games (online, PlayStation, Game Boy), checking out Web sites, sending text messages, IM’ing, Tivoing, watching what you’ve Tivoed, browsing through magazines and newspapers, reading new books—now you’ve got to stop and read a book that first appeared in the last century, not to mention the last millennium? Come on. Like your outlook on today could seriously be rocked by this plain-spoken provocation about The World of 1985, a world yet to be infiltrated by the Internet, cell phones, PDAs, cable channels by the hundreds, DVDs, call-waiting, caller ID, blogs, flat-screens, HDTV, and iPods? Is it really plausible that this slim volume, with its once-urgent premonitions about the nuanced and deep-seated perils of television, could feel timely today, the Age of Computers ? Is it really plausible that this book about how TV is turning all public life (education, religion, politics, journalism) into entertainment; how the image is undermining other forms of communication, particularly the written word; and how our bottomless appetite for TV will make content so abundantly available, context be damned, that we’ll be overwhelmed by “information glut” until what is truly meaningful is lost and we no longer care what we’ve lost as long as we’re being amused.... Can such a book possibly have relevance to you and The World of 2006 and beyond?
I think you’ve answered your own question.--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition. See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
Postman's key point is that Aldous Huxley, not George Orwell, was right when he prophesied about how society would be controlled in the future (our present). Where Orwell envisioned "big brother" controlling thought and discourse with a strong-arm, dictatorial approach (which was and still is the case in many communist or dictator-run nations), Huxley saw that an even more powerful way to control the populace was through amusement and entertainment. If people can be effectively distracted with pleasure, they are even more effectively controlled than when they are subjects of a strict police state. In Orwell's world, their will always be a remnant of free-thinking rebels who refuse to submit. In Huxley's world, no one wants to rebel because conformity feels good.
This is a critique of electronic image media that takes the medium itself seriously as something that is not simply neutral. Most people or groups that have attempted to critique TV (and other media) usually remain in the realm of content, arguing that violence, language, sexual images, etc., are what is damaging to viewers. Postman has seen through this superficial buffet-item selection method of criticism and shown that the real danger is not what we are watching but that we are watching...the whole buffet is poisoned.Read more ›
My biggest objection to the book is the way Postman chooses to introduce his agrument against the televised media. He uses the novels "1984" and "Brave New World" as a backdrop for the his explanation of how American society become so listless and lethargic. A major rule I learned in undergraduate English was that you can not use fiction to support an argument. The idea in itself is absurd. It would be like using an episode of Star Trek to rationalize what kind of car you should buy. Once I got past this imperfection in the book, I found the author's statement to be reasonably solid.
The basic idea discussed in this book is that when people learned by listening to teachers who accumulated knowledge, people were better learners. This is because the learner had to assimilate the knowledge into their brain and could ask questions to help the learning process. The written word and later the typed word made the learner think as he/she read. This learned a high level brain function. Nevertheless, people were learning. Television is a low level brain activity, which means people are less likely to learn as they watch. Television is often the most significant teacher a child has since the mid 20th century. Yet television's goal is not to educate but to entertain.Read more ›
I think author Neil Postman has a lot of valuable things to say and reflect on. Several years ago I read his book Technopoly, which, along with several other books and articles I read at the time, led me to present a session at the 2001 TCEA convention entitled, "Remember the Luddites: Asking Critical Questions about Educational Technology." Technopoly was published in 1993, but now I have gone back to Postman's 1985 work, Amusing Ourselves to Death. It seems a bit dated, with the advent of the Internet and all the changes which have come as a result, but I found the book to be none-the-less quite relevant and worthwhile. His overall theme of how our society (esp in the US) is tending to become more and more focused on entertainment via multimedia has many implications not only in an educational arena, but also for everyday life-- in the way we set our priorities, and in the final analysis-- the ways we choose (hopefully intentionally) to spend our limited heartbeats. Those small choices day to day add up to have a considerably dramatic cumulative effect. And his point is well taken about our typical, cultural LACK of intentionality when it comes to our consumption of multimedia content-- esp. television programming.
In the May 2004 edition of Wired magazine, an article entitled "Watch This Way" documents a conversation between various moguls and pundits of our ever-growing entertainment industry. I found Yair Landau of Sony Picture's comment that "There are three basic human entertainment experiences that go back to the cave: storytelling, game-playing, and music" to be compelling. Author William Gibson added to this list of basic entertainment experiences "being part of the tribe.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
"Amusing Ourselves to Death" describes the modern age of cultural and societal development in relation to mass media entertainment propagated through television culture. Read morePublished 20 months ago by James 'error' Campbell
I read this book for the first time this year, and I must say it gives away its age to some extent, but the core analysis of the difference between the typographical age and... Read morePublished on Aug. 20 2011 by Rodge
Powerful and engaging. Throw out your TV, and pick up another book...preferably another one by Postman. Read morePublished on June 4 2010 by Small town Menno
Postman presents an interesting analysis of modern media and its resulting ideologies, with MacLuhan's "the medium is the message" as its starting point. Read morePublished on Oct. 26 2008 by MC
Borrowing from Marshall McLuhan, Communication Arts professor Neil Postman adopts the thesis that the 'medium is the metaphor' by arguing that "each medium, like language itself,... Read morePublished on April 28 2004 by Jacob Aitken
Although this book was written in 1986, it's still the best book of its type I've come across. It's pithy, focused, articulate, and smart, and devoid of the "academic gobbly-gook,... Read morePublished on March 29 2004 by JackOfMostTrades
Neil Postman takes the reader through a historical tour of how informative images are ruining our brains. Read morePublished on March 23 2004 by J. GARRATT
I'm sure I won't have anything to say about this book that someone else hasn't already said here. Yes, the book is now almost 20 years old, so it takes some memory stretching to... Read morePublished on Feb. 22 2004 by Paul D. Baxter
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